My new book tells the story of Look magazine, one of the greatest mass-circulation publications in American history, and the very different United States in which it existed. The all-but-forgotten magazine had an extraordinary influence on mid-twentieth-century America, not only by telling powerful, thoughtful stories and printing outstanding photographs but also by helping to create a national conversation around a common set of ideas and ideals. I describe how the magazine covered the United States and the world, telling stories of people and trends, injustices and triumphs, and included essays by prominent Americans such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gloria Steinem. It did not shy away from exposing the country’s problems, but it always believed that those problems could be solved.
Look, which was published from 1937 to 1971 and had about 35 million readers at its peak, was an astute observer with a distinctive take on one of the greatest eras in U.S. history—from winning World War II and building immense, increasingly inclusive prosperity to celebrating grand achievements and advancing the rights of Black and female citizens. Because the magazine shaped Americans’ beliefs while guiding the country through a period of profound social and cultural change, this is also a story about how a long-gone form of journalism helped make America better and assured readers it could be better still.
“This is a fascinating slice of American history: the story of Look, a magazine that ‘informed people rather than riling them up or scaring them.’ Andrew Yarrow writes persuasively and vividly about something precious the world is in danger of losing—journalism grounded in honesty and goodwill.”—Robert Guest, foreign editor of the Economist
“In this quietly amazing biography, Andrew Yarrow brings to life a major mid-twentieth-century magazine, now forgotten or dismissed as ‘middlebrow,’ and reveals it as path-breaking, radical, and surprisingly influential. He shows Look connecting tens of millions of readers who could assume, even when they disagreed, that they were reflecting on and discussing the same facts and opinions. A thoughtful, lively story about a pivotal thirty-four years in America.”—John Poppy, writer for Look, 1960–70
“Look magazine was one of the most influential mass-circulation magazines in post–World War II America, combining cutting-edge social and political stories and gripping photography. In this ground-breaking new work, historian and journalist Andrew Yarrow recovers the contribution of this sometimes overlooked publication to examine the critical role Look played in creating an informed citizenry and generating civilized public debate.”—Rosemarie Zagarri, University Professor and a professor of history at George Mason University
More than 180,000 images were published in Look during its 35-year history. Five million are held by the Library of Congress and 250,000 are held by the Museum of the City of New York. Only a tiny fraction are available online.
Nearly 900 issues of Look were published between January 1937 and October 1971.
Stanley Kubrick began his career as a photographer for Look when he was a teen-ager.
Norman Rockwell painted 30 politically hard-hitting images for Look, including "The Problem We All Live With," which depicted an 8-year-old Black girl, Ruby Bridges, being escorted by federal marshals into a previously segregated school.